The big debate: Who hit who and why?

Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the Georgia congresswoman who had a physical altercation with a police officer, is speaking out about the episode after saying she regretted the incident.

But she has refused to apologize in a statement and a brief on-camera interview.

The six-term congresswoman apparently struck a Capitol Police officer when he tried to stop her from entering a House office building without going through a metal detector. Members of Congress wear identifying lapel pins and routinely are waved into buildings without undergoing security checks. The officer apparently did not recognize McKinney, she said in a statement.

Asked on-camera Thursday by WSB-TV of Atlanta whether she intended to apologize, McKinney refused to comment. Her office said she was planning to hold a news conference Friday morning. She issued a statement late Wednesday saying she regretted the confrontation.

"I know that Capitol Hill Police are securing our safety, and I appreciate the work that they do. I have demonstrated my support for them in the past and I continue to support them now," she said in the statement on her Web site.

Capitol Police were considering Thursday whether to ask the U.S. Attorney’s office to file charges against McKinney, a Democrat who represents Atlanta suburbs that make up one of Georgia’s two black-majority districts.

Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, engaged in a rhetorical scuffle over the incident.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday labeled it "a mistake, an unfortunate lack of recognition of a member of Congress." She added that the police officer was not at fault.

"I would not make a big deal of this," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., responded: "How many officers would have to be punched before it becomes a big deal?"

The dustup is the latest in a series of tangles for the roughly 1,200-officer Capitol Police department.

The department faces a difficult task _ protecting 535 members of Congress and the vast Capitol complex in an atmosphere thick with politics and privilege.

The safety of its members became a sensitive issue after a gunman in 1998 killed two officers outside the office of then-Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

More recently, police obeyed an order by an angry House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., to remove Democrats from a hearing room. Thomas later tearfully apologized on the House floor.

This year, during President Bush’s State of the Union address, police drew criticism for first kicking antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan out of the House gallery, and then for evicting the wife of Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.

© 2006 The Associated Press